By: Brad Krause

Self-care might sound like an excuse to treat yourself to a spa day or shopping trip, but it’s more than that. Self-care is about actively caring for your physical and mental health so that you can feel and be your best every day. In practice, self-care may look different from person to person, but the goal is always the same: reduce stress, improve quality of life, and foster physical and mental wellbeing.

A lot of what goes into self-care are the actions that our younger, less busy selves took for granted — like getting enough sleep, not overloading your schedule, and making time for relaxation, to name a few. Actions like these are essential for managing our stress and protecting our mental health.

Why is Self Care Important?

According to the American Institute of Stress, stress affects your entire body, mind included. It can weaken your immune system, disrupt your gastrointestinal system, and increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke. It makes it difficult to sleep, leads to depression and anxiety, and even contributes to serious neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease.

Despite its deleterious effects, stress is unavoidable. From minor annoyances to major life disruptions, getting stressed out is a part of life. But it’s when that stress is severe and chronic that health problems begin to arise. That’s where self-care comes in: By practicing self-care, you can manage everyday stress so it doesn’t grow into a larger health issue.

How Can I Practice Self Care?

Self-care isn’t just another thing to sell. You don’t need to sign up for a yoga class, attend a meditation retreat, or buy a juicer. In fact, most acts of self-care cost nothing at all. Here are three simple ways you can practice self-care without spending a dime:

1. Get Enough Sleep

When you have a million things on your plate, eight hours of sleep per night starts to feel frivolous. But when you aren’t properly rested, your productivity takes a hit. Not only that, but your sleep-deprived brain is less resilient to stress, which can make those minor frustrations feel like a much bigger deal.

2. Learn to Say No

We want the people around us to be happy, but other people’s happiness shouldn’t come at the expense of your own. If taking on more responsibility at work or signing your kids up for yet another extracurricular puts more on your plate than you can handle, it’s OK to say no. As Zen Habits points out, saying no to some things means you can say yes to the things you really want.

3. Hang Out With Your Dog

An under-stimulated dog is a troublesome dog, and a troublesome dog means more stress for you. Not only that, but spending time with your dog can actually benefit your mental health. Petting dogs has been shown to elevate feel-good hormones while reducing stress, and if you exercise alongside your dog you’re getting double the benefits thanks to the stress-reducing nature of physical activity. If you don’t have a dog of your own, why not spend an afternoon
volunteering at a local animal shelter?

Self-care can be anything that helps you be your best self, but as these examples demonstrate, the one thing it doesn’t have to be is expensive. After all, self-care isn’t reserved for people who have the luxury of extra time and money. Rather, self-care is something that every person should weave into their days in order to live the healthiest, happiest life possible.

Approximately 50 million Americans experience mental illness each year, but nearly 60% go untreated. Take a step to end the suffering by seeking help from the comfort of your own home.